Michael מִיכָאֵל Sabani
Kirtan is a part of bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. It is done in call-and-response format, and is used to bring the chanter into and altered state of consciousness, “at once ecstatic, contemplative and — most of all — playfully improvised”. In kirtan, the goal is to chant to G-d and to develop an ecstatic state of awareness that brings insight and peace, so that we merge with the Beloved through devotion, hence the moniker “the yoga of devotion”. Borrowing certain ideas and instruments from Hindu tradition and basing them solidly in a Jewish framework, the Kirtan Rabbi, Rabbi Andrew Hahn, Ph.D. uses Hebrew texts as a basis with the lyrics “drawn from the Hebrew Bible and the siddur (the traditional Jewish prayerbook), as well as from the language of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism)”. At first I was skeptical, but it works, and it works very well.
On the newest album, Achat Sha’alti (One Thing I Seek), Rabbi Hahn has delivered a very well produced album full of affecting chants. The call and response format works very well and allows the listener to connect with the rhythm of the music and the patterns of the chanting. I found myself chanting along in the car and while working, giving me a nice respite in the middle of the day. Using the chants drawn from the bible and the siddur brought a unique insight to them, and in some cases it was as if I had heard them for the first time. On the previous Kirtan Rabbi album, Live! the music and chanting was just as engaging, though not as fresh. The production values on Achat Sha’alti are a refreshing step forward. The lush instrumentals add to the atmospheric chanting from the melodious opening Kaddish to a trance Lecha Dodi medley. The droning harmonium makes an incredible background to the traditional niggunim used as melodies and inspiration for the different tracks. As a tool for personal worship or meditation, I can highly recommend this album, especially to those familiar with other kirtan artists like Krishna Das or Jai Uttal and who want to be able to use kirtan and the bhakti yoga system as a devotional tool in service to Hashem. Or if you just like cool music!